Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Libya Revolutionary Tourist Destination

Before the revolution tourism only represented 1% one - percent of the Libyan economy.

But with its vast array of ancient Roman ruins - many of which are actually in good shape - as well as the tourists that the revolution has already attracted - like American actor Sean Penn, those numbers should rise considerably.

Besides the ancient sites, and the interest in the revolution itself, Libya boasts beautiful beaches, moderate weather most of the year, and with the return of an F-1 auto race, the construction of new golf courses (the old Wheelus AFB golf course has not be kept up but could be restored), and a few new resorts along the coast, Libya could once again become the Pearl of the Mediterranean.

Libya's revolution to a tourist resort
Rebecca Bundhun Oct 12, 2011

http://www.thenational.ae/the national conversation/industry-insights/tourism/libyas-revolution-to-a-tourist-resort

The shimmering Mediterranean waters gently lap the shore of a pristine, seemingly endless stretch of beach.

Nearby, majestic Roman ruins stand as testament to the country's rich heritage.

But this is not Italy. It is Libya. The war-torn country has long been off the radar for holidaymakers. Yet it has the potential to emerge as a major tourism destination after the fall of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.

Already, some of the leading global hotel chains are considering moving into the country once the political and military upheaval subsides.

"We believe it will take time, but Millennium & Copthorne can see a good market for all our brands," says Michael Marshall, the vice president of sales and marketing at Millennium & Copthorne Hotels Middle East.

Under the repressive regime of Col Qaddafi, tourism made up just 1 per cent of Libya's economy, with the country attracting fewer than 150,000 visitors a year.

But all that could change, because the North African nation has the financial muscle, through oil revenue, to compete with nearby tourism destinations.

Neighbouring Tunisia attracts 7 million tourists a year, and the industry accounts for 7 per cent of the country's economy, generating US$3 billion (Dh11.01bn) of revenue a year.

"We believe both Tunisia and Libya have great untapped tourism potential, and as the political environment settles down, we will certainly be looking to see what opportunities there are to enter these markets," says Rudi Jagersbacher, Hilton Worldwide's president in the Middle East and Africa.

But there is still a great deal of work to be done to turn Libya into a major tourism haven. The nine-month conflict has wiped out what was left of the industry as international airlines and tour operators scrapped services.

"When better days do come, it is likely that more players will be targeting the country's travel accommodation market," says Nadejda Popova, a travel and tourism analyst at Euromonitor International.

Other industry experts echo her view.

"The expectation that we have is that with a new political environment in Libya, the authorities will be looking more favourably to tourism as a source of diversification of the economy away from oil and a source of employment creation," says Amr Abdel-Ghaffar, the UN World Tourism Organization's regional director for the Middle East. "Both in terms of culture and environment, and also in terms of beach tourism, it has a tremendous development potential, which has not been exploited so far."

Libya has almost 2,000km of Mediterranean coastline as well as the ancient ruins of Leptis Magna, a spectacular example of Roman architecture and now a Unesco World Heritage site.
Just along the coast are the Greek ruins of Cyrene,dating to 630 BC and considered by historians to reflect the golden age of Hellenic culture.

"There's big potential," says Deepak Jain, the head of strategic consulting, Middle East and North Africa, at the property services company Jones Lang LaSalle. "In tourism terms, it's a very nice Mediterranean location. It's just across the pond from Europe, so there are a number of opportunities, such as secondary homes."

But before that can happen, developers will need to build major resorts in the country. Omer Kaddouri, the chief operating officer at Abu Dhabi's Rotana, revealed that the group still aims to open a hotel in Libya after putting plans on hold because of the conflict.

"The country has tremendous potential for the development of its infrastructure and facilities," he says.

Libya certainly has the right mix of sun, sea and stunning settings to attract visitors from Europe and the Middle East.

"Aside from its archaeological marvels, Libya is also home to mountains, national parks and protected nature reserves, and presents interesting opportunities for adventure travellers and the development of ecotourism," says Ms Popova.

"There is, therefore, a large untapped market to consider for the growth of travel and tourism in the future - one which could be looked at more closely by any new government," she says. "But there will be a great deal of work required to revive the travel and tourism industry. A key priority for a new government - post-[Col] Qaddafi - will be to establish an influential tourism authority, and to develop a long-term strategy."

In the meantime, Libya's travel sector is expected to struggle for at least another two years.

"There is a great deal of reconstruction needed," says Ms Popova. "How visa procedures evolve will also be essential to assess the country's tourism potential."

Building the infrastructure to attract tourists will also be vital as there are just a few upmarket hotels in Tripoli, which mainly cater to business travellers.

In recent years, brands such as JW Marriott, Radisson Blu and Four Points by Sheraton, have opened hotels in the Libyan capital.

But they were closed as civil war gripped the country. It is still unclear when JW Marriott will reopen its hotel.

"There are still a number of UN sanctions in place, and the security situation is not clear," says Jeff Strachan, the vice president of sales and marketing, Middle East and Africa, for Marriott International. "There is a long way to go before we look that far ahead. Leisure tourism requires a significant infrastructure and a good level of safety and security."


Libya's Latest Tourist Attraction: Qaddafi's Old Homes


As a degree of normalcy returns to Libya, with airports reopening, oil production resuming, and ports springing back to life, Libya's new leaders are hoping to give the tourism industry a jolt by highlighting the country's Roman ruins and stretches of undeveloped beaches. Lonely Planet's Libya guide still warns against traveling to the country, but one tourist attraction is already becoming popular, at least for Libyans: Qaddafi's homes. In a fascinating New York Times Magazine piece today on Libya after Qaddafi's fall, Robert F. Worth recalls that when he first arrived at Qaddafi's ransacked Bab al Aziziya compound in Tripoli, Libyan families were "strolling through and gazing wonderingly at the ruins."

Worth isn't alone in observing the phenomenon. In late August, The Guardian called the compound "Tripoli's newest, most extraordinary tourist attraction"--a place where "smiling sightseers took snaps on their mobile phones, or peered from the balcony at Tripoli's shimmering skyline." People lined up to shimmy down ladders and explore Qaddafi's network of underground tunnels, or explore a battered children's amusement park with a cups-and-saucers ride. In an article on Libya's "revolutionary voyeurism," the Los Angeles Times described a surreal scene at the compound in which rebel gun trucks "waited along with station wagons crammed with children and grandparents." The paper meets one airport dispatcher who has become a self-appointed tour guide.

While the reports are mainly from late August, photos snapped this month suggest the trend is continuing. In this Getty photo, a man stands near a giant, graffiti-covered eagle statue on the roof of Qaddafi's Tripoli compound holding an American flag and Libya's new flag. "The previously secretive compound has become a main tourist hotspot with people visiting to relax in the gardens or search for souvenirs," Getty's caption reads.

The "revolutionary tourism" isn't confined to Qaddafi's Tripoli compound. There's a roving exhibit, if you will, of Qaddafi's iconic, now-defaced monument of a golden fist crushing a U.S. warplane, which was uprooted from Bab al Aziziya.

In this picture, two men check it out in the once-besieged city of Misrata.

FEATURE-Libya tour operators eye post-war boom for neglected industry

By Alexander Dziadosz
TRIPOLI | Wed Oct 12, 2011

Oct 12 (Reuters) - A holiday in Libya may sound like an absurdity now, but many of the country's tour operators and officials are already starting to predict a bright future for the travel industry once the dust of war settles.

The coastal country has all the makings for a vibrant tourism business, they say: warm weather, beaches, antiquities and proximity to Europe -- all factors that helped the industry thrive in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

If developed, tourism could eventually help dent Libya's high jobless rate by creating work for tour guides, drivers, restaurant workers and hotel staff, as well as help it diversify its economy away from dependency on oil and gas.

The fact that operators are thinking about resuming business at all -- some predicted tourists would start arriving again within a year -- testifies to the relative peace that has prevailed in Tripoli and other parts of Libya since the former rebels ousted Muammar Gaddafi's forces from the capital in August.

One company, Sherwes Travel, already advertises a three-day, 295-euro tour of "post-war Libya" on its website, featuring visits to sites in Tripoli and to the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna. Employees admit it may be a bit optimistic.

"The tour was very popular, actually. But not now, not yet," said Ibrahim Usta, the company's self-described international customer assistant. He said while some potential visitors had been in touch, it was not yet possible to bring them to Libya.

"We have many inquiries right now, but the problem is mainly security and visas," he said. "There's no (visa) system in place and many embassies are not functioning."

Usta and others said tourism was languishing before the revolt because of apathy, incompetence, complex visa requirements, draconian police oversight and mercurial regulations under Gaddafi's government.

Sabri Ellotai, manager of Sabri Tours and Travel, described bringing a group of Germans in 2009 only to have them turned away at the airport because they did not have an Arabic translation for their passports -- a requirement he had never heard of before.

"I heard about it (the law) at the airport," Ellotai said, shaking his head.

He and others said they hoped the country's new rulers -- currently represented by the interim National Transitional Council (NTC) -- would be able to do more with the industry when the war is over.

NTC forces are still fighting to take over Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte and a few other bastions of Gaddafi loyalists, which has impeded efforts to set up effective government nationwide and restart oil production.


Libya's lucrative oil and gas industry made tourism less of a priority than in Egypt and Tunisia, where it was a major contributor of jobs and foreign revenues before the uprisings in those countries.

Libyan central bank official Ali Shnebesh estimated tourism could account for between 3 and 4 percent of the economy within five to ten years, depending on how much effort the country's new government puts into it.

"It would decrease unemployment, since we have a lot of areas that are good for tourism," he said. "It would put thousands of our people to work in these places in many sectors -- telecommunications, transportation, hotels -- everywhere."

It is difficult to tell how much tourism contributed to Libya's economy before the revolt because it was not tracked as a separate industry in central bank records, but Shnebesh estimated it was below half a percent of gross domestic product.

That compares to Egypt, for instance, where officials said it accounted for over 11 percent before the revolt.

There is plenty of evidence of the lax oversight at the ancient Greek colony of Cyrene, which was featured in the chronicler Herodotus's "The Histories" and is now a UNESCO world heritage site, in the eastern Jebel al-Akhdar region.

The site is overgrown with weeds and graffiti etched onto one of its old columns. A renovation crew of Italians, Americans and French fled after the uprising started, guards there said.

Jamal Salem, 50, sitting in the afternoon sun outside a souvenir shop filled with woven baskets, photographs and ceramic statues still on display, said there weren't many visitors even before the revolt.

"A lot of people think Libyans are terrorists, and so they're afraid of coming here," he said. "We hope the picture will become clearer now, and that things will get better."


Others lingering in the area of Cyrene said they also hoped the revolt would help stamp out what they saw as widespread corruption and regional favouritism in the industry.

"Before, companies had their headquarters in Tripoli. They brought the cars from Tripoli, they brought the translators from Tripoli, everything. Nobody here benefited from it at all," Hussein Saleh, who volunteered to help guard Cyrene, said.

Others near Cyrene and other sites said they also hoped a new government would show more interest in preserving relics.

"We're expecting a better future, and maybe more interest in renovating the antiquities," said Muftah Mabrook, a 35-year-old researcher at the ancient Greek port of Apollonia, a picturesque collection of columns and other ruins set against the sea.

While such ambitions are running high, it's too soon to say how the situation will turn out.
Tripoli's atmospheric old city is slowly coming back to life as jewelry shops and cafes reopen up in its winding streets, for instance, but many alleys are still littered with bullet casings.

In some areas, young men with Kalashnikov assault rifles sit smoking and chatting on stoops or around street corners. They are friendly, for the most part, as they smile and wave at foreign passersby, but their presence is not likely to encourage most holiday makers.

The relative lack of English and French language speakers, as well as the ban on alcohol, may also make it hard for Libya to compete on a large scale with Egypt and Tunisia even after the war is finished, some operators say.

But Usta, like many others, was confident the industry would eventually thrive.

"We have everything. We have the desert, we have the sea, we have mountains. We just need the right people in the right place." (Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

1 comment:

  1. Already, some of the leading global hotel chains are considering moving into the country once the political and military upheaval subsides.

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